The Muppet Show is a family-oriented comedy-variety television series that was produced by puppeteer Jim Henson and features The Muppets. After two pilot episodes produced in 1974 and 1975 failed to get the attention of network executives in the United States, Lew Grade approached Henson to produce the program in the United Kingdom for ATV. The show lasted for five series consisting of 120 episodes which were first broadcast in Britain between 5 September 1976 and 15 March 1981 on ATV and was shown by the other ITV franchises in the United Kingdom. The programs were recorded at Elstree Studios, England.
The series shows a vaudeville or music hall-style song-and-dance variety show, as well as glimpses behind the scenes of such a show. Kermit the Frog stars as a showrunner who tries to keep control of the antics of the other Muppet characters (and his temper), as well as keep the guest stars happy. The show was known for its uniquely designed characters, vaudevillian wit, outrageous physical slapstick, sometimes absurdist comedy, and humorous parodies. Each episode also featured a human guest star. As the show's popularity rose, many celebrities were eager to perform with the Muppets on television and in film.
Many of the puppeteers also worked on Sesame Street. Muppet performers over the course of the show include Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Fran Brill, Eren Ozker, Louise Gold, Kathryn Mullen, Karen Prell, Brian Muehl, Bob Payne, and John Lovelady. Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns were two of the show writers. The music was performed by Jack Parnell and his orchestra.
Since 1969, Sesame Street had given Jim Henson's Muppet creations exposure; however, Henson began to perceive that he was pigeonholed as a children's entertainer. He sought to create a programme that could be enjoyed by young and old. Two specials (The Muppets Valentine Show and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence) were produced and aired on ABC that are considered pilots for The Muppet Show. Neither led to the sale of a prime-time network series. However, the prime-time access rule had just been enacted, which took the 7:30 to 8 pm ET slot from the networks and turned it over to their affiliates. CBS suggested it would be interested in Henson's proposal as a syndicated series it could purchase for its owned-and-operated stations, to run one night a week in that time slot. According to the original pitch reel, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In co-creator George Schlatter was originally going to be involved.
Lew Grade, head of the British commercial station ATV and accustomed to the idea of puppet television considering he underwrote the various 1960s Supermarionation series produced by Gerry Anderson such as Thunderbirds, offered a deal to Henson that would see his show produced at the ATV studios in Elstree, England. ATV, as part of the ITV network, would broadcast the show to other ITV stations in the United Kingdom, and its distribution arm, ITC Entertainment, would sell the show in the United States and around the world. Henson put aside his misgivings about syndication and accepted.
"The Muppet Show Theme" (written by Henson and Sam Pottle in 1976) is the show's theme song. It is the opening and closing theme for every episode of The Muppet Show and was performed by The Muppets in a scene of The Muppets.
At the end of the song, Gonzo the Great appeared onstage to play the final note, with various comical results. For the first series, he struck the O in the show's logo as a gong; in all other series, he appeared within the O to play a trumpet.
Each episode ended with an extended instrumental performance of "The Muppet Show Theme" by the Muppet orchestra before Statler and Waldorf gave the last laugh of the night. Some last laugh sequences featured other Muppets on the balcony. For example, in one episode, the Muppets of Sesame Street appeared behind the duo who told them: "How should we know how to get to Sesame Street? We don't even know how to get out of this stupid theater box!"
Every series, the TV version of the song was presented with re-worked lyrics. While the opening sequence evolved visually over the course of the show's five series, the musical composition remained essentially the same. Throughout the years, the song has become a staple of the franchise.
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The Muppet Theater is the setting for The Muppet Show, a grand old vaudeville house that has seen better days. In episode 106, Kermit identifies the name of the theatre as The Benny Vandergast Memorial Theater, although by the time of It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, it is simply called "The Muppet Theater." It is then that the theatre becomes registered as a historical landmark.
According to The Phantom of the Muppet Theater, the theatre was built by a stage actor named John Stone in 1802. At some point, a production of Hamlet ran in the theatre, with Stone playing the title role. An alternate exterior is also shown in the book.
Locations seen in the Muppet Theatre include backstage right (which includes Kermit's desk), the dressing rooms, the attic (featured in four compilation videos released in 1985), the canteen, the prop room, the stage, Statler and Waldorf's Box, the auditorium, reception, the recording studio, the stage door lobby, and the back alley. A replica of the theatre serves as the setting for the Muppet*Vision 3D attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney California Adventure.
Scooter's uncle J.P. Grosse owns the theatre, and rents it to the Muppets, as Scooter is only too happy to remind Kermit. In a deleted scene from It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, Kermit reveals that J.P. has died and left the theatre to the Muppets in his will. This would have taken place some time after 1996, as J.P. can be seen (and referred to as such by the head of the KMUP network) in episode 107 of Muppets Tonight, the 1990s reworking of The Muppet Show. The Muppet Theatre is shown to be in New York City as Rachel Bitterman plots to tear down the Muppet Theater and build a club. She is thwarted when Pepe the King Prawn manages to get the Muppet Theater to be made into a national landmark.
In the film The Muppets, a badly deteriorated version of the Muppet Theatre is located next to Muppet Studios in Los Angeles. The Muppets reunite in hopes of raising enough money to buy the theatre from oil magnate Tex Richman before he can demolish it and start drilling for oil on the site.
Many of the characters who appeared on The Muppet Show have appeared in previous and subsequent Muppets productions.
No guest star ever appeared twice on The Muppet Show, although John Denver appeared both on the show and in two specials (John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together and John Denver & the Muppets: Rocky Mountain Holiday), while Dudley Moore reappeared in the special, The Muppets Go to the Movies. Additionally, several guest stars from the series had cameos in one of the first three Muppet theatrical films. Originally, the producers had to call on their personal contacts to appeal to them to appear, especially considering that doing so meant an overseas trip to Britain to do so. However, the situation changed when the renowned ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev offered to appear; his performance on this unusual TV program produced so much favourable publicity that the series became one of the most sought after for various celebrities to appear in.
Many episodes featured actors, such as Steve Martin, Don Knotts, Harvey Korman, and Dom DeLuise; some featured veteran performers like Ethel Merman and Rita Moreno; some featured well-known pop singers, including Elton John, Diana Ross, Linda Ronstadt, and Leo Sayer. Sayer's show used his hit "The Show Must Go On": he changed the lyrics in the second verse slightly, from "I wish I could tear down the walls of this theatre" to "I wish I could tear down the walls of this Muppet theatre". The last episode, in 1981, featured then-James Bond actor Roger Moore. Mark Hamill appeared in one episode as both himself and Luke Skywalker, his role in the Star Wars film series.
One episode featured staff writer, Chris Langham, (who wrote some episodes of this show, starting in series 3) guest starring due to Richard Pryor being unable to make the taping of the episode at the last minute.
An early tradition was to present the guest star with a Muppet likeness of themselves as a parting gift at the end of the show, but this only lasted for the first two episodes produced, featuring Connie Stevens and Juliet Prowse. The high cost and effort of creating these unique Muppets, scheduling conflicts, and potential legal issues contributed to the decline of this practice, although Muppet caricatures and parodies would continue to appear.
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The first episode opens on a character called Wally and develops as he types the script on his typewriter. In the second pilot, a new character called Nigel acts as the backstage boss. Statler and Waldorf grumble from a living room while watching the show on television (This setting for Statler and Waldorf would be revisited in the first series of Muppets Tonight). In both pilot episodes, Kermit the Frog only plays a supporting role.
Kermit the Frog becomes the host for the show from the start of the first series, while former host Nigel gets a part as the orchestra leader. Statler and Waldorf now watch the show from a balcony. Other characters from the pilots, including Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Sam Eagle, The Swedish Chef, George the Janitor, Mildred Huxtetter, Crazy Harry, Brewster, Nigel the Conductor, and Droop continue to make appearances. Characters from previous Jim Henson productions also make appearances, including Rowlf the Dog, Sweetums and Robin the Frog (from The Frog Prince), Miss Piggy, Gonzo the Great, and Thog (from The Great Santa Claus Switch). New characters include Fozzie Bear, The Muppet Newsman, Scooter, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, wardrobe lady Hilda, Uncle Deadly, Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphones, Trumpet Girl, and the singing duet of Wayne and Wanda. Recurring sketches include "Veterinarian's Hospital", "At the Dance", "Talking Houses", "Panel Disscussions", "Fozzie's Monologue", "Talk Spot", "Muppet Labs" and "Gonzo's Act".
Several changes were made for the second series. Each week, Scooter would now greet the guest star in his or her dressing room before the opening theme song by announcing the time until curtain call. The opening theme sequence was replaced with one involving the cast in arches. Sketches such as "At the Dance", "Talk Spot", "Panel Discussions", "Talking Houses", and "Fozzie's Monologue" either made fewer appearances or were dropped altogether. Several characters were rebuilt, with noticeable changes in Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Gonzo the Great. Characters like George the Janitor, Hilda, Mildred, and Wayne and Wanda were dropped from the series. Robin is identified as Kermit's nephew. New sketches include "Pigs in Space" and "An Editorial by Sam the Eagle". New characters include Bunsen Honeydew's assistant Beaker, Link Hogthrob, Dr. Julius Strangepork, Doglion, and Annie Sue. Muppet performers Eren Ozker and John Lovelady departed from The Muppet Show after the first series. In early episodes of the second series, female puppeteers were auditioned to replace Ozker. Louise Gold was eventually hired as Ozker's replacement. Jack Burns quit his role as writer after the first series.
All of the characters and sketches from the previous series remained. New characters included dimwitted stagehand Beauregard, boomerang fish thrower Lew Zealand, cafeteria lady Gladys, Bobby Benson and His Baby Band, and sports commenter Louis Kazagger. New segments included "Muppet Sports" and "Bear on Patrol". Two new puppeteers, Steve Whitmire and Kathryn Mullen joined the troupe of Muppeteers during this series. Also, in early episodes of the third series, Peter Friedman was auditioned to replace John Lovelady as a sixth male Muppet performer. Steve Whitmire was eventually hired, replacing Lovelady officially as a sixth male performer.
Most of the characters and sketches from the previous series remained. Canteen worker Gladys however, was replaced by a new character, Winny. Rizzo the Rat also made his earliest appearances. Rizzo made his first appearance as "Super Rat" in the episode which featured Christopher Reeve as its guest star.
The cold open featuring Scooter visiting the guest star's dressing room was replaced by a new opening in which Pops, the doorman, would greet each guest as they entered the theatre. New characters included Pops, Lips, and Gaffer the Cat. Two new puppeteers, Brian Muehl and Karen Prell joined the troupe of Muppeteers during this series, and also Betsy Baytos was auditioned to perform in eight episodes during this season.
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The Muppet Show program was nominated for nine BAFTA Awards during its run, winning three. It was nominated for twenty-one Primetime Emmy Awards, winning four, including the 1978 award for Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series. It was presented with a Peabody Award in 1978. Also in 1978, the show received the Television Award of Merit by the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
|1977||Outstanding Comedy – Variety or Music Series||The Muppet Show||Nominated|
|Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series||Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Jack Burns, Marc London,||"Paul Williams"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music||Rita Moreno||Won|
|1978||Outstanding Comedy – Variety or Music Series||The Muppet Show||Won|
|Outstanding Directing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series||Peter Harris||"Elton John"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series||Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Don Hinkley, & Joseph A. Bailey||"Dom DeLuise"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music||Peter Sellers||Nominated|
|1979||Outstanding Comedy – Variety or Music Series||The Muppet Show||Nominated|
|1980||Outstanding Comedy – Variety or Music Series||The Muppet Show||Nominated|
|Outstanding Directing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series||Peter Harris||"Liza Minnelli"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series||Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Don Hinkley, & David Odell||"Alan Arkin"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Video Tape Editing for a Series||John Hawkins||"Liza Minnelli"||Won|
|Outstanding Art Direction for a Variety or Music Program||Malcolm Stone||"Beverly Sills"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costume Design for a Series||Calista Hendrickson||"Beverly Sills"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Individual Achievement – Creative Technical Crafts||Leslee Asch, Edward G. Christie, Barbara S. Davis, Faz Fazakas, Nomi Frederick, Michael K. Frith, Amy Van Gilder, Dave Goelz, Marianne Harms, Larry Jameson, Mari Kaestle, Rollin Krewson, Tim Miller, Bob Payne, Jan Rosenthal, Don Sahlin, Caroly Wilcox||"Alan Arkin"||Nominated|
|Edward G. Christie, Barbara S. Davis, Faz Fazakas, Nomi Frederick, Michael K. Frith, Amy Van Gilder, Dave Goelz, Larry Jameson, Mari Kaestle, Rollin Krewson, Tim Miller, Bob Payne, Jan Rosenthal, Don Sahlin, Caroly Wilcox||"Kenny Rogers"||Nominated|
|1981||Outstanding Comedy – Variety or Music Series||The Muppet Show||Nominated|
|Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series||Jerry Juhl, David Odell, & Chris Langham||"Carol Burnett"||Won|
|Outstanding Video Tape Editing for a Series||John Hawkins||"Brooke Shields"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Art Direction for a Variety or Music Program||Malcolm Stone||"Brooke Shields"||Nominated|
|1977||British Academy Television Awards (BAFTA)||Best Light Entertainment Programme||The Muppet Show||Won|
|'Harlequin (Drama/Light Entertainment)||The Muppet Show||Nominated|
|1978||Most Original Programme/Series||Jim Henson||Won|
|Best Light Entertainment Programme/Series||Jim Henson||Nominated|
|Best VTR Editor||John Hawkins & Tim Waddell||Nominated|
|Best Design||David Chandler & Bryan Holgate||Nominated|
|1979||Best Light Entertainment Programme/Series||Jim Henson||Nominated|
|Best VTR Editor||John Hawkins||Won|
|1980||Best Light Entertainment Programme/Series||Jim Henson||Nominated|
|1979||Grammy Awards||Best Recording for Children||Jim Henson||Won|
|Peabody Awards||Henson Associates||Won|
|Golden Camera||Best Entertainment Show||Jim Henson||Won|
|1977||Rose d'Or Light Entertainment Festival||Golden Rose||Won|
|1981||Young Artist Awards||Best TV Series for Family Entertainment||Nominated|
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In 1984, Playhouse Video released a collection of video compilations under the Jim Henson's Muppet Video banner. Ten videos were released, featuring original linking material in addition to clips from the show.
In 1993, Jim Henson Video released two compilations under the It's the Muppets banner, Meet the Muppets and More Muppets, Please! Later, three volumes of The Very Best of The Muppet Show were released on VHS and DVD in the UK (volume 3 was a release of full episodes as opposed to compilations). Unlike the Playhouse Video releases, It's the Muppets and The Very Best of The Muppet Show did not include any original footage or guest star clips, but all compilation collections did include material cut from the original US broadcasts.
In 1994, Jim Henson Video released The Muppet Show: Monster Laughs with Vincent Price, featuring the episodes with Vincent Price and Alice Cooper. Both episodes were edited. In addition to replacing the first series opening and the ending logos with Zoot, the Vincent Price episode was edited to remove the songs "I'm Looking Through You" and "You've Got a Friend" (the latter of which would be cut again when released on the first series DVD) as well as a sketch with the talking houses, while the Alice Cooper episode removed Robin's performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".
Time-Life and Jim Henson Home Entertainment began marketing 'best of' volumes of The Muppet Show for mail-order in 2001, with six initial volumes with three episodes on each VHS and DVD. Unique to each episode was an introduction by Jim Henson's son, Brian. Nine more volumes were added for 2002, the Muppets' 25th anniversary. The collection was available for retail in 2002 via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Jim Henson Home Entertainment by which time Time-Life had released its tenth volume.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment released the first series on DVD in Region 1 on 9 August 2005. The rights to the episodes and characters used in The Muppet Show, and subsequent film outings, were bought in February 2004 by the Walt Disney Company.
Several songs were cut from the series 1 DVD release due to music licensing issues. There have also been some cuts in the intro sequence, and backstage scenes leading up to these songs. However, episodes that used Disney music remained unaltered (for example, episode 14 of series 1 used "Never Smile at a Crocodile" from Peter Pan).
The only uncut release of Season 1 on DVD so far is the German DVD release by Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment division from 2010 (which also contains English audio). However, the intro and end credit sequences on this release are in German.
|DVD name||Ep #||Release date||Content|
|Season One (1976–1977)||24||9 August 2005|
|Season Two (1977–1978)||24||7 August 2007|
|Season Three (1978–1979)||24||20 May 2008|
The following Season Four and Season Five episodes have never been released for home video: Linda Lavin, Shields & Yarnell, Crystal Gayle, Arlo Guthrie, Victor Borge, Phyllis George, Dyan Cannon, Christopher Reeve, Dizzy Gillespie, Anne Murray, Jonathan Winters, Andy Williams, Doug Henning, Carol Channing, Alan Arkin, Shirley Bassey, Joan Baez, Glenda Jackson, Loretta Swit, Hal Linden, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Chris Langham, Melissa Manchester, Gladys Knight, Wally Boag, and Buddy Rich.
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